Diabetes has always had a presence in my life.
As a relative of Sir Frederick Banting, growing up I was very familiar with his accomplishments, especially his co-discovery of insulin and its therapeutic abilities.
When I was in the second and third grade, I had a classmate with Type 1 Diabetes. During the school day, she would have to test her blood sugars and have extra snacks. She came over for a play-date once and I vaguely remember her having to take a needle before eating dinner.
My dear little Nana is Type 2. We have all been privy to her testing her sugars and taking her pills before meals. She is now on injections. My aunt had Gestational Diabetes, and now has Type 2 too.
I should note: Nana and my aunt have no biological connection to me. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you will know that my lovely Mom is not my biological mother. My Nana and aunt are her mother and sister.
So I was pretty familiar with the various “types” of Diabetes.
And then I became really fucking familiar with Type 1.
I was diagnosed March 26th, 1999. And with a diagnosis like that, one would think it would be something a person would remember.
And I did/do – ISH. There’s a few holes in the old memory due to some damage that occurred when I had my one and only dance with DKA.
I remember bits of the comings and goings of the day I was diagnosed. How the diagnosis was delivered. The weeks/months leading up to it.
But the actual date was not something that stuck. I always had a general idea of when it happened but never gave it much thought. Never celebrated a Diaversary or even paid much attention to how many finger pokes and injections there had been…until recently.
Just before Christmas, when I was seventeen, I had my wisdom teeth removed. I remember Mom taking me to the surgery and coming to then vomiting on her. Sorry Mom! Over the holidays, I wasn’t able to eat much. And given my pretty fucked up relationship with food, I was probably okay with that…I likely lost a couple of pounds.
But then the weight loss continued.
I have never been a “skinny” person, which always bothered me. I was heavier, thicker than all the other girls pre-puberty (and post!). And was teased about it mercilessly. I even went to several different elementary schools and that torment followed. So there must have been something wrong with ME. Right?
And all my practicality just can’t make me see it any other way. So when I was suddenly down around 100 pounds I was over-the-fucking-moon about it. I felt like complete and utter shit, but it didn’t matter…because I was SKINNY!
The following March Break we drove down to Missouri to visit my aunt and cousins. We were all used to that kind of drive, given our family history of driving to Florida, so we had our family routines: egg salad sandwiches for the first dinner, stopping every 4-5 hours or so for washroom breaks, kids arguing over what to watch. But this trip was different. During this trip, I had to pee ALL THE TIME. I was drinking water by the gallon. I suddenly had an insatiable appetite. And I was sleeping ALL THE TIME.
Beyond Type 1 has a great reference for the warning signs of Type 1 Diabetes, you can find it here: https://beyondtype1.org/warning-signs-of-type-1-diabetes/
By the time we returned home, I was even thinner. And felt even worse…
So I went in to our then family physician and had a whole whack of tests done over the course of several days. When his office called me to come in on a Friday (a day he typically didn’t work), I suspected something was up.
At that time I was soon turning 18, so my folks didn’t come with me. I drove to the appointment myself. Sat down with the doctor. Received my diagnosis (in the form of a crude drawing and some explanation involving a furnace and coal). Was told I would be contacted about the next steps, an appointment with something called an endocrinologist, another appointment with a dietitian, and then went home with a prescription for some kind of pills.
The pill game ran for a few days, before I got in to see an endocrinologist, and by that time I was swallowing like 25-30 little pills every single day. Bleh. I went to that appointment and left horrified.
The office was dingy and dark, the doctor seemed very fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants and sadly, I could barely understand him (he was new to Canada and spoke very poor English). He shoved an insulin pen across the desk, along with a pen tip and a vial of Humalog insulin. Then barked at me to inject myself in the stomach.
What the actual fuck!?!? What the shit is this!?!?
You pinch the skin, stick in the needle and push the plunger.
Like, right here? Right now?
And so, with that very little bit guidance and poor instruction, I closed my eyes, pinched up some skin and jammed that sharp little fucker in my stomach. It hurt like HELL. I yelped. And he told me I would have to get used to it. Because I was going to be doing that 3-5 times a day or I was going to die.
Truth be told, I was already seeing a doctor and a therapist for my Dysthymia, and offing myself was a far lovelier thought than the anxiety that was going to come from injecting myself with insulin. Hooooooooly fuuuuuuuuck.
So there I was. Student Council Prime Minister (equal to President, but our student government was modeled after our actual government), working at McDonald’s, attempting to balance life, planning for my post-secondary adventure to England, in my second last year of high school, constantly self-conscious, always self-doubting. And now I had a whole new bag of shit to deal with…
In the weeks to come, I attended several classes. Some about how to count carbs, some about how to manage diabetes, and all with people at least 30-50 years older than me. And all of whom had Type 2 Diabetes. I paid attention as best as I could but struggled to relate to any of them and couldn’t reconcile a relationship with my disease.
My lovely Mom came to a few of those classes. She wanted to learn what she could about the food, because I was still living at home and she was the primary cook.
But it was hard. I had no one to talk to about it. I barely understood it. And so I carried on as if it wasn’t issue.
Upon further exploration, I opted to rework my post-secondary plans. I withdrew my application for an overseas exchange program and applied to in-province universities. Thanks a-fucking-lot ‘Betes.
I managed to finish out high school, the ‘Betes tagged along mostly unnoticed. The ‘Betes was a moot point. I was a closet Diabetic and that was fine with me.
I also hid the problems I was having with my needle phobia. There were a lot of hidden tears. Many unseen meltdowns.
And a lot of effort on my part to just keep going.